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Remembering the good

Like President Duterte, I was also denied a US visa.  The US consul must have thought that the probability is much higher for  a single woman without much assets to become a “t and t” (tago ng tago or an illegal alien).    But I do not begrudge the US immigration officers for staying faithful to their duties.  The screening of desirable and undesirable foreigners starts at their level.  To this day, I am still apprehensive that they will not find enough reason to believe that living in the United States is farthest  from my desire.

I have also been detained at Immigration offices for carrying the wrong type of visa. I have been questioned and subjected to unscheduled health examinations.  But I have tried my best not to allow my personal experiences and prejudices to color my judgment, especially when I assumed a post in government.  I constantly reminded myself that a public servant should have no room for rancor, personal biases and feeling of entitlement.  His or her thinking should always be above personal hurts or gains and focused on what is good for the country.

Like many Filipinos, I found it hard to sleep upon hearing the announcement of the President regarding “his separation” from the United States. I wanted to tell him that I am not part of his decision and that he should not speak for me. But he is the President  of the country.  And like it or not, his words are taken as those of government.

Our ties with the United States run deep. The US is one of our major trade partners with exports estimated at US$7.91 billion in 2015.  It is home to almost six (6) million Filipinos. More than our economic relationship, many of our ties are deeply personal.

A picture of President Kennedy remains tucked on my refrigerator’s door. Vicariously, I was part of his “New Frontier” through the Peace Corps who taught us the New Mathematics.  Instead of memorizing  the multiplication table, we worked with the set theory and the redistributive and distributive properties of numbers.  I do not have a natural proclivity for numbers, but I majored in Math because my Peace Corps teachers made me understand their patterns and relationships.

As  I progressed in my career in public service, I was mentored by  public finance experts through USAID’s technical assistance. My colleagues and I immensely benefitted from discussions with public finance experts like Richard Bird and Roy Bahl. Our studies on fiscal decentralization, intergovernmental grants, and income taxation benefitted from their wisdom and experience. Before I left government, I made sure that my other DOF colleagues would have a similar exposure through another USAID’s program on “Fiscal Planning and Analysis.”  Then USAID Mission Director Patti Buckles who endearingly called me “kiddo” helped packaged another technical assistance to support the development of the Build-Operate-Transfer Center.

I also had the  fortune to be  part of the US International  Visitors’ Program,  the same program that brought Jesse Robredo, Chito Sobrepena, Father Jun Mercado, Sister John Mananzan, and hundreds of other leaders to share and learn from the experiences of their American counterparts.  A parallel program,  the Eisenhower fellowship, recognizes the leadership of development leaders like Ernie Garilao, Rizza Hontiveros, and Miguel Dominguez, and brings them into discussions with their peers from the United States.

After I left government, fate had me working with another American institution, the Ford Foundation.  It is credited  with investing on pioneering organizations like the Asian Institute of Management, the International Rice Institute, and Galing Pook. It invested heavily on developing capacities of CSOs and academic institutions on governance, gender equity, bio-diversity, and education.  The Ford  Foundation was a source of scholarships that supported talented Filipinos to obtain their post-graduate education in the United States.    Although the  Foundation left the Philippines in 2003, it gifted local governments with grants to  shepherd pioneering programs in elementary education.

I am tempted to say that on balance, the good outweighs the bad in my Philippine-American experience. But the measurement of what you get and what you give up in a relationship makes it transactional.  Certainly, there  are ROIs in every agreement. But the friendship, goodwill, and the resulting relationships  that each agreement  brings cannot be measured and will always be more valuable.

mguevara@synergeia.org.ph